Friday, 19 August 2016

Debut Spotlight: Mary Jayne Baker

Today it's my pleasure to be shining the spotlight on Mary Jayne Baker whose debut novel The Honey Trap is published as an eBook today with the paperback to follow in November. 

Mary Jayne Baker grew up in rural West Yorkshire, right in the heart of Brontë country… and she's still there. After graduating from Durham University with a degree in English Literature in 2003, she dallied with living in cities including London, but eventually came back with her own romantic hero in tow to her beloved Dales.

She lives with him in a little house with four little cats and a little rabbit, writing stories about girls with flaws and the men who love them. You can usually find her there with either a pen, some knitting needles or a glass of wine in hand. She goes to work every day as a graphic designer for a magazine publisher, but secretly dreams of being a lighthouse keeper.

More information can be found about MJ on her website at www.maryjaynebaker.co.uk. You can also follow her on Twitter @MaryJayneBaker, or like her Facebook page by going to Mary Jayne Baker.

Can you tell us a little bit about your debut novel The Honey Trap?
The Honey Trap is a steamy romcom set in London. It tells the story of 26-year-old Angel Blackthorne, a journalism intern for fictional redtop The Daily Investigator, the country's bestselling tabloid.

Angel spent years working in dreary admin jobs before making it into journalism, so when her sleazy editor Steve hints that there might be a staff position on the cards if she agrees to honey trap a married British film director - Sebastian Wilchester - for a scandalous exclusive, she reluctantly agrees.

The plan is for her to lure Seb to a hotel suite where a hidden camera has been set up, get him naked and leave. However, once she meets the handsome, charismatic director she can't resist spending the night with him.

After the story breaks Angel tries to put the honey trap behind her, but fate seems determined to push her and Seb together.

Once Steve promotes her to film critic, the pair are forced into each other's company at events like film premieres and charity galas. They soon discover they share a love of vintage film, and Angel realises she's beginning to fall for Seb. The question is, can she ever consent to being just the other woman - and after the honey trap, can he ever learn to trust her?

I loved writing the story. This was my first novel, and seeing the characters come to life in my imagination and then on the page was a real experience. I particularly fell for Angel, who was a lot more wry and witty than I ever expected her to be, and of course warm, sexy hero Seb, but I loved all the secondary characters too - particularly Angel's bantering ex-boyfriend Leo and her unprincipled but hilarious boss Steve. I also really loved how the little world I'd created and the story itself fell into place, and things I hadn't expected just popped up out of nowhere - for example, the charity ReelKids which Seb runs with his wife, A-list actress Carole, and which I had no idea was going to exist when I started writing.

What was the inspiration behind this story, a young journalist being used as a trap to get a big story?
Good question - partly it was inspired by the fact I'm a lazy researcher and I wanted to write what I knew! I made Angel a journalist because I work in the media industry in my day job, and the vintage film interest she shares with Seb came about as it's something I love myself, so it was easy to make my characters passionate about it too.

The theme of press ethics was also one which really appealed to me, perhaps partially inspired by the phone hacking scandal and the Leveson Inquiry of a few years ago. I wanted the story to make it clear that Angel is a good person who makes a bad choice, swayed by the skewed moral code of her workplace and dodgy boss, then explore the consequences of that choice.

In the end though, it was the characters who really drove the plot. I wanted them all, even secondary characters, to be well-rounded and true to themselves, and from that elements of the story popped up which I hadn't even considered in my plan. I found I particularly enjoyed writing dialogue that explored relationships, and my favourite scenes are those where we get to know Angel and Seb through their interactions with each other and the other characters.

And Groucho the cat was inspired by my cat, who refused to leave me alone when I was working on the book and got written in as punishment. He's called Harpo...

If you had to describe The Honey Trap in one sentence, what would it be?
My editor Sam Gale described it as funny, sexy and charming so I'll take that - it seems a bit cocky if I say it myself though!

What can we expect from you next?
I'm sitting on a couple of finished manuscripts while I look for agent representation. While The Honey Trap was originally supposed to be a contemporary romance but sort of morphed into a romantic comedy as I wrote, both of my next two works were written as romcoms from the outset, and they made me laugh while I was writing so that's a good sign I hope.

One which is very close to my heart, as I set it in a fictionalised version of my home town, is a friends-to-lovers romance about a pub quiz team in the Yorkshire Dales. In it the hero, Simon, bets his tomboyish best friend Clarrie a date that their team - The Mighty Morphin Flower Arrangers - will win the quiz league that year. I love these guys!

The other is The Swingingest Little Lighthouse on the Coast, in which two schoolfriends reunited after ten years team up to renovate their seaside town's Victorian lighthouse as an offbeat music venue - and of course, fall in love in the process. I'm also working on a fourth manuscript (about two-thirds complete at time of writing) about runaway bride Kitty, who makes the acquaintance of a handsome Irish loner and his karaoke-singing dog as they travel the country in a VW camper van. More to follow I hope!

How did your writing journey start?
It kind of started back in sixth form, when with the arrogance of youth I thought I was good enough to write a romantic novel (FYI, I really wasn't). One element of The Honey Trap does date back to this period, the names of the hero and heroine - I thought I'd hang on to them for old time's sake. I revisited the idea at university a few years later and managed about 3000 words before I decided the whole thing was terrible and scrapped it.

After that I lost confidence a bit and didn't really write fiction again for over a decade, although I have written quite a bit of non-fiction over the years (local history articles mostly). A chance comment to my boss last year that I'd once dreamed of writing a romantic novel led to him urging me to give it another go. I toyed with the idea, and while Googling for online writers' forums I discovered the NaNoWriMo event, which takes place every November. It was October, so I was just in time to take part! The support I got from their website and forums turned out to be just what I needed to battle my confidence problems.

After that it was all a bit of a whirlwind. I finished The Honey Trap in December, submitted to HarperImpulse in January and was accepted for publication in March! And if you'd told me this time last year I'd have one novel about to be published, two more completed manuscripts under my belt and be under consideration by literary agents, I'd never have believed it. What a year, eh? Now I've got the writing bug I feel like I just can't stop.

Have you treated yourself to something special to celebrate your publishing your debut novel?
I treated myself and my partner to fish and chips and prosecco the day I was accepted by HarperImpulse - that's as posh as we get up here in Yorkshire I think! I also (and I'm half ashamed to admit this, as it makes me sound like a pretentious eccentric novelist type) bought a writing hat as a reward. Someone on the NaNoWriMo forums recommended getting one of these - a hat you can wear when you're writing, so other people in the house know not to disturb you. It's a red velvet top hat I got from a steampunk shop in Haworth, I love it. It makes me look gloriously daft and no one is ever, ever allowed to see me in it.

Finally have you anything exciting planned for publication day itself?
Not yet, but I will plan something to mark the occasion. I'm thinking a nice meal with friends, but suggestions gratefully received! The book comes out on 19th August, which is a Friday (thanks, HarperImpulse, for not releasing it on a school night!), so I'm thinking wine may be involved too...
Extract from chapter 24 – dancing
In this scene, the hero, Seb, has brought Angel to an abandoned 1920s cinema he owns, where he's made her a candlelit picnic for her birthday.
She cocked her head to one side when a new song came on the record player. ‘Oh! I love this one.’
Seb smiled a soft little smile into her green eyes, twinkling with candlelight and appreciation while she listened to Nat singing ‘Unforgettable’.
‘Stand up, Ange.’
‘Why?’
‘Come on. Humour me.’
‘Er, okay.’ She lifted herself off the blanket and followed him out of the organ pit to the empty space between it and the row of chairs, wondering what unpredictable thing he was going to do now.
Seb turned to face her. ‘May I have this dance, Miss Blackthorne?’ he asked as he bent forward into a solemn bow.
Angel couldn’t help laughing at him looking up at her with merry eyes. She dropped a passably gracious attempt at a curtsey in return and held out her right hand to him. ‘Well… I believe I have a space on my card, Mr Wilchester.’
She stifled a gasp when he took hold of the hand she was offering and wove his fingers through hers. He curled his left arm around her waist, keeping her back from him at a little distance. All of a sudden he was touching her, holding her. She knew she should pull away, give him the kind but firm little speech she’d prepared after her conversation with Emily, but… she closed her eyes, absorbing the song, letting the moment wash over her.
Unforgettable, that’s what you are. Unforgettable, though near or far…
She sighed as he began swaying her gently to the hypnotic ebb and swell of the music she loved. ‘I didn’t know you could dance,’ she murmured, feeling suddenly shy. She could feel his thumb tip stroking softly along the curve of her hip, and she tried to slow the feverish pounding that had sprung up in her chest at their sudden contact.
‘I can’t,’ he whispered. ‘Don’t let it get around, but I’m making this up as I go along.’
Angel opened her eyes and raised them to his, smiling. ‘I won’t tell if you don’t.’
Abandoning all resistance now, she let Seb draw her into him and wrap her in strong arms, rocking her body dreamily in time to the softly crackling record. She knew she should stop it before things went any further, but all power to remove herself from those arms was gone. She rested her cheek against his chest and felt him bury his face in her hair, breathing deeply. He made a little noise when he caught her scent and pressed her tighter against him, as if scared she might slip away.
She drew out a long, blissful sigh, allowed herself to get lost in the moment, in that beautiful old tune and the comforting warmth of Seb’s arms while they held her. She felt him press his lips to the top of her head, letting them linger there as the dance went on, but she had no strength to pull away. She inhaled deeply against him, relishing the smell of his woodsmoke-chocolate aftershave as it owned her senses.
Angel laughed as he twirled her like they did in the old-time films, then swung her back along his arm’s length and into a tight embrace.
…like a song of love that clings to me, how the thought of you does things to me, never before…
She could feel his warm, deep breaths against her ear. He brought his hand up to her face, drew light, caressing fingertips along her cheekbone, then moved them up into her hair. She shivered when he brushed the auburn strands back behind her shoulder, stroked along them tenderly, curled one strand around his finger. Her cheek, resting against his as they danced, was damp now from his tears.
‘I love you,’ she heard him murmur into her ear in a barely audible whisper. ‘God, Angel, I love you so much.’
What did he just say? She jerked out of the dream, wriggled free from his embrace and jumped back as though she’d been stung.

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